Israeli Residents Oppose Plans to Build Power Plant Near Gaza Strip

Security fears, including rocket attacks, outweigh facility's useof environmentally friendly fuel.

Local people oppose plans to build a power plant near Kiryat Malakhi over the next three years, even though the facility would be powered on natural gas, a fuel more environmentally friendly than coal. The residents, who have obtained expert an opinion, say the plant would threaten their safety - not least because of possible rocket attacks from Gaza.

According to the company involved, IPM, and the Energy and Water Resources Ministry, the move is part of a plan to increase energy produced from sources less harmful to the environment.

During the next few days, planner Baruch Yuskovich is expected to submit his findings to the National Infrastructure Committee. Yuskovich began to investigate after local residents, regional authorities and nearby factories voiced opposition to the construction of the facility. Yuskovich's findings will help the committee decide whether to approve the project.

Yuskovich faces a difficult task. There is a wide consensus among Israeli energy and environment officials that plants must be developed to create electricity from natural gas. The plan is economically sound due to natural gas' low price compared to oil, and the fact that Israel has natural gas reserves near its shores.

There is also environmental justification for the plan, as natural gas causes less pollution than other sources of electricity. Plants that use natural gas have already sprung up throughout Israel.

Dangerous materials nearby

The problem with the new facility is its location - the jurisdiction of the Be'er Tuvia Regional Council. The site chosen for the plant is near residential neighborhoods and a large commercial center. It's also on the outskirts of an industrial area containing buildings that house dangerous materials.

Local residents, who have created an opposition council with the help of the organization Sustainable Development for the Negev, note the many rockets that landed in the area during Operation Pillar of Defense in November.

They fear that an explosion at the site would severely damage the area, while the presence of dangerous materials like ammonia nearby only intensifies the danger.

According to the danger assessment that local residents commissioned from a foreign expert, not all necessary checks regarding potential rocket fire have been made, nor have all the dangers been taken into account.

For its part, IPM says all checks showed that the facility could be operated with no danger. According to the company, the power plant would not store natural gas on site. Small quantities of gas for producing electricity would reach the plant through the national pipeline system, and the facility would be built with all the necessary defenses.

The assessment commissioned by local people also highlights the fact that other dangerous materials would be held at the site, like diesel fuel, which would serve as a reserve fuel for the plant. Possible damage to the area could be even more severe due to the high concentration of dangerous materials at the site and the nearby factories, according to the assessment.

The project's backers mention other opinions that say there is no chance an attack on the plant could cause ammonia containers at nearby factories to explode. They say the site would follow all the Environmental Protection Ministry's guidelines in terms of safety distances and boundaries. They add that a power plant near an industrial area is more logical than one in an open area.

Residential areas and rocket attacks

The industrial area near Kiryat Malakhi was chosen largely because it contained private land that was acquired by the project's backers to build the facility. One of the local people's main concerns is that no alternative sites were considered, nor was weight given to the site's proximity to residential areas vulnerable to rocket attacks.

The project's backers say the site was chosen according to guidelines and a list of sites compiled by the Environmental Protection Ministry. They add that the area was initially approved by the Be'er Tuvia Regional Council, which later changed its position on the matter.

Both the Environmental Protection Ministry and the southern sector of the national planning and building committee agree that the site chosen for the plant is problematic. A few months ago, the committee held a meeting on the proposed plant.

"The committee sees the importance in advancing the construction of power plants that use environmentally friendly sources of energy. The committee, however, acknowledges that the enthusiasm of the companies involved for the site was a decisive factor in choosing it, and other alternatives should be examined," the committee wrote.

"In this context, the committee acknowledges the problematic nature of the choice of the preferred site, which took place in the absence of an overarching national plan to guide the placement of such facilities."

The residents who oppose construction of the plant weren't satisfied with the committee's criticism of the location and did their own search for alternative sites in the area. Among sites found was one near the community of Timorim that was already zoned for energy facilities and infrastructure.

Alternative sites were presented to Yuskovich; he must now decide if the plan that has been approved by the National Infrastructure Committee should be scrapped and another site chosen.

Eliyahu Hershkovitz